Matt Hancock ‘discussed withholding learning disability hub if MP opposed lockdown’, leaked messages show

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Leaked WhatsApp messages show Hancock agreed to put pressure on an MP if he failed to vote with the government

Matt Hancock discussed withholding funding for a learning disability centre in a bid to pressure an MP to vote in favour of Covid lockdown in England, leaked messages suggest.

WhatsApp messages show the former Health Secretary and an aide spoke about warning Bury North MP James Daly that a new centre for disabled children and adults would be “off the table” if he ‘rebelled’ against the government, according to the Telegraph’s ‘The Lockdown Files’ investigation.

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Senior Conservative Jake Berry described the disclosure as an “absolute disgrace” and called for Hancock to be hauled before the Commons for questioning.

Sir Jake, whose son has disabilities, said: “Once you get to the point that you are weaponising the provision of care to disabled children, I think you have crossed the line.”

A senior Tory has called for Hancock to be hauled before the Commons for questioning (Photo: Getty Images)A senior Tory has called for Hancock to be hauled before the Commons for questioning (Photo: Getty Images)
A senior Tory has called for Hancock to be hauled before the Commons for questioning (Photo: Getty Images) | AFP via Getty Images

On Times Radio, he added: “What he has effectively said is that he wants to weaponise provision of care to disabled children to try and force MPs to vote in a certain way.

“Politics… is full of sort of arm-twisting and leverage and cajoling. But I actually think once you get to the point that you are weaponising the provision of care to disabled children, I think you have crossed the line and as a local MP and… a father with a son with additional needs, I know how desperately provision of this sort of care is required in the local area.

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“And I just think it’s an absolutely despicable and appalling way for Matt Hancock and his advisers to have behaved.”

A spokesman for Hancock said “what’s being accused here never happened” as his team disputed the “entirely partial account” based on a trove of leaked WhatsApp messages.

The Telegraph said the discussion between Hancock and political aide Allan Nixon came ahead of a vote on 1 December 2020 on the introduction of the Covid tier system restrictions in England.

Nixon said they need to “dangle our top asks” over some of the newest MPs who entered Parliament in 2019 through Boris Johnson’s general election victory.

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He suggested, for example, “James wants his Learning Disability Hub in Bury – whips call him up and say Health team want to work with him to deliver this but that’ll be off the table if he rebels”.

Nixon wrote: “These guys’ re-election hinges on us in a lot of instances, and we know what they want. We should seriously consider using it IMO.” Hancock’s response was “yes 100%”.

Bury North MP James Daly said he was “appalled” and “disgusted” that the disability hub was discussed as a way to coerce him into voting with ministers (Photo: Getty Images)Bury North MP James Daly said he was “appalled” and “disgusted” that the disability hub was discussed as a way to coerce him into voting with ministers (Photo: Getty Images)
Bury North MP James Daly said he was “appalled” and “disgusted” that the disability hub was discussed as a way to coerce him into voting with ministers (Photo: Getty Images) | POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Daly, a Conservative MP, told the paper he was “appalled” and “disgusted” that the disability hub was discussed as a way to coerce him into voting with ministers, but said the threat was never made to him.

He said he was unaware the Department for Health and Social Care had plans to give Bury North a disability hub, which would provide specialists with a dedicated centre for coordinating local activity.

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The 2020 Covid tier system saw every area of England placed into one of three categories - medium (one), high (two) and very high (three) - with the vast majority put into the two highest tiers.

According to the paper, leaked messages show Daly was more concerned with support for pubs in areas placed in the higher tiers because they were unable to serve food.

Hancock’s spokesman said: “As we’ve repeatedly seen this last week, it is completely wrong to take this entirely partial account and write it up as fact.

“What’s being accused here never happened, demonstrating the story is wrong, and showing why such a biased, partial approach to the evidence is a bad mistake, driven by those with a vested interest and an axe to grind. The right place to consider everything about the pandemic objectively is in the public inquiry.”

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The exchange is among more than 100,000 messages passed to The Telegraph by journalist Isabel Oakeshott. She was originally given the material by Hancock while they were collaborating on his memoir of his time in government during the pandemic.

Hancock has condemned the leak as a “massive betrayal” designed to support an “anti-lockdown agenda”, but Ms Oakeshott has insisted the release was “overwhelmingly” in the public interest.

The former Health Secretary has strongly denied the allegations made in the Telegraph series and is reportedly considering legal action. NationalWorld has not seen or independently verified the WhatsApp messages, which have not been fully released.

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